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Weird Dreams

Generally, I have a difficult time remembering my dreams. At best, I wake up with a vague feeling related to whatever tale my subconscious was spinning for me. But over the past week or so I’ve had a few dreams that have stuck with me even after waking . . . and they’ve been a little weird.

Unfortunately, one of them slipped away from my waking brain even now as I was preparing to write about it (yeah . . . they’re THAT slippery). But another has been repeating in slight variations, so it’s easier to get hold of.

The basic event in these dreams is that I have been accused of something terrible that I did not do. Sometimes it’s criminal, and I’m under investigation, sometimes it’s just causing a big problem among friends, but no matter the details, it is clear in the dream that I am wholly innocent . . . I just have to PROVE it!

Helping me to do this is an innate ability (super power?) to jump back exactly 2 hours in time. (To be clear, this is only in the dream . . . I don’t REALLY have this power . . . y’know, in case you were confused on that point.)

In the dreams, it’s well past the 2 hour point for me to undo whatever it is I’m being accused of, but I CAN use the power to make my arguments more clearly and arrange for proof that is suddenly and unexpectedly demanded. However, it’s still an incremental improvement. I’m slowly moving opinion in my favor . . . but each misstep I make, or each time new “evidence” is introduced, it hurts my credibility and I have to jump back in time again to clear it up.

The dreams play out almost like video games, where I’m trying to align all of the right information and evidence to prove my innocence . . . but every time I get close a new problem appears in my way.

I’ve had these dreams three times this past week. More, actually, because I know I’ve woken up in the middle of them on a number of occasions and then fallen back into the SAME dream upon getting back to sleep. I have no good real-life literal interpretation for them. There isn’t anything I’m feeling guilty about, or being accused of (that I know about, anyway) . . . and I don’t have any situation where I feel I’m having to prove myself over and over (unless you count my ongoing job hunt).

The nice thing is, even though these are stressful situations in the dreams, I don’t waken with that stress. Or, if I do feel stress, it’s the “playing a video game that you just can’t beat” stress, and not the “my life is being threatened” kind.

Usagi and Me

I like comics. That probably comes as no surprise to anyone reading this. I’ve read them since I was a kid, collected them since I was a teen, and have drawn them semi- and fully professionally for more than 30 years. I’ve got box loads of comics in plastic sleeves, and bookcases full of comic collections all over my home. I’ve got prints and original art on my walls, patches and stickers on my belongings, and files of digital images on my computers. They range from mid-20th-century comic strips to silver-age comic books to collections of 21st-century webcomics, and vary in subject from biography to history to fantasy and sci-fi. I have A LOT of comics! But if a crazed super-villain ever told me that I could only ever read one title for the rest of my life, I could make that call in a split second without any hesitation or doubt . . .

. . . Usagi Yojimbo!

Stan Sakai’s brilliant anthropomorphic tale of a 16th-century Japan as seen through the eyes of a wandering masterless samurai is, in my opinion, a nearly perfect thing.

I first discovered Usagi Yojimbo in 1985 with the second ever tale—a back-up story in issue #3 of Albedo Anthropomorphics—and I don’t think I’ve missed an issue or appearance since. I’ve bought every issue, from series published by three different companies, plus every collected volume . . . in both hardcover and paperback.

I think it’s safe to say that I own just about every Usagi Yojimbo story . . . and I own at least three printings of most of them.

So it should surprise no one that as a 50th birthday present, I treated myself to the hardcover version The Usagi Yojimbo Saga, vol. 1, which collects three of the previous books into an omnibus edition. More than 600 pages of comics that I now own in the FOURTH time . . . and I couldn’t be happier.

 

“Happy Birthday” as a Marketing Ploy

In recent years, as user-centric metrics and targeted marketing have grown, it’s become pretty common for me to get a dozen or more birthday wishes from companies that I’ve patronized in the past (sometimes only once and YEARS in the past). I’m okay with this. If a company wants to spend some of its time, energy, and budget on wishing me well, I’ll take it.

In fact, many of the emails, texts, and FB messages I received from companies yesterday came with “presents” … coupons or “birthday discounts” or other special offers to entice me to “treat myself” to the company’s wares as part of my celebration. Again, fair enough. A coupon is a coupon, and they do represent some (often small) savings.

What gets me, though, are the emails (and in one case, a hand-written physical birthday card) I got from companies that wished me well, offered me no coupon or discount, and suggested that it’d be a “treat” for me to patronize them in honor of my birthday.

Seriously?!?

I just don’t understand the thought process behind that. What marketing genius thought that “Happy birthday, please give us some money!” was a winning program?

Now, I like some of these companies, and I WILL continue to patronize them. But I sure as heck do not feel like they were in any way “honoring” me by giving me the hard-sell on my birthday.

Half-Century Stan!

Happy birthday to me!
Happy birthday to me!

I know that a lot of people like to obfuscate their birthdays . . . not letting folks know when they are, or claiming to be some age (generally younger by a few years) than they actually are, or even just locking themselves away to mark the occasion with a private sulk.

I never understood that.

I mean, birthday or no . . . you’re still one day older than you were yesterday. Whatever number is pegged on your personal oldometer . . . it has no effect on how you feel or what you do. It really is just another day . . . except you have a culturally sanctioned reason to celebrate YOU.

Today I’m 50 years old and, all things considered, it feels pretty great.

On occasions like this, when the birthday marks a particularly round number, people often ask if there are any philosophical or metaphysical insights that you have garnered in achieving this milestone. And I’m sorry, but I don’t . . . I’ve been too busy listening to the “classic hits” radio station.

* Don’t Stop Believin’ — If you have a passion, if you have a dream, if you have a vision . . . follow it. You don’t have to turn your back on reason and mundane reality, you don’t have to divest yourself from the work-a-day world, but for goodness sake don’t let them be the reason you give up on your dreams. Hold on to that feeling.

* You Can’t Always Get What You Want — The dreams you believe in may not easily be achieved . . . in fact, often they’ll end up being beyond your grasp. But the greatest happiness in life is gotten through PURSUING your dreams, not necessarily in achieving them. You may not get what you want. But I think you’ll find that you get what you need.

* Don’t Worry, Be Happy — Life is filled with many successes and many failures, many unexpected joys and many unforeseen calamities, many wins and many losses. You can’t control what cards you’re dealt, but you do have something to say about how you react. I’m not saying that it’s good to be a Pollyanna, I’m just saying that having as positive an attitude as possible makes bad times easier, and good times better.

* Be Excellent To Each Other — This whole “life” thing is pretty tough. No matter how good you’ve got it (and I know I’ve had it pretty dang good these past fifty years) there are times when it just wears on you, and moments when it seems like more than you can bear. A kind word from a stranger, or warm smile from a friend often makes more difference than we’ll ever know. Be generous with those resources . . . it turns out that they’re only as limited as we make them.

* And Party On, Dudes! — Celebrate your victories as they come . . . even if that “victory” is just making it through the week. We’re often too stingy with ourselves when it comes to simply taking a few moments to feel proud of our accomplishments. I’m not saying that you should wallow in your success, but it’s okay to give yourself a little pat on the back for what you’ve done before you bull ahead with what you need to do next.

Oh . . . and always wear sunscreen!

What’s This About a Kickstarter?

Over the past week or so I’ve casually thrown out references to the fact that I’m considering running a new Kickstarter campaign. Although I like to support and promote my friends’ Kickstarters, the last time I did one of my own was back in 2012 for The Littlest Shoggoth, and it went pretty well (if I do say so, myself). It exceeded the funding target and delivered the goods on time (and, more importantly, on budget) . . . and the book is still available in stores and online now!

Of course, having done it before, I am fully aware of how much WORK goes into a Kickstarter campaign, and I’ve been loathe to dive back into that pool again unless and until I had a project that I really felt strongly about. And the odd thing is, over the summer I’ve been pondering the fact that I’ve actually got TWO such projects developing in my notebooks and sketchpads . . . and I had to figure out which one to move forward with.

One of the projects was mostly focused on game design . . . the other one was mostly focused on writing and illustrating all-ages stories. And THAT was the big tension in my decision process. Game design is the arena in which I’ve had the most success over the years, and it’s also the category of Kickstarter that generally has the strongest track record. Writing and illustration, on the other hand is the part of my professional portfolio that I’d like most to grow, making it a bigger part of what I do and, consequently, am known for.

After much rumination, I’ve finally come to a decision . . . I’m going to follow my heart and press forward with the writing/illustration project. And, so I can stop “vaguebooking” (can I say that about something I’m not posting directly to Facebook?) what I’m talking about is raising some cash to fund my time and the physical production of more projects featuring Dr. Symm—the World’s Smartest Monkey.

I’ll admit, even having made the decision, I’m a little uncertain. Uncertain of the likelihood of success. Uncertain of how to get my message in front of the young reader audience. Uncertain of what I’ll do if I manage to catch a tiger by the tail and get the attention of a truly big audience. But one thing I AM certain about is that this project is where my heart is right now . . . and so it is the project I will devote my time and energy to.

I’ll have more info soon about Dr. Symm and the upcoming Kickstarter. I hope you’ll come back, have a look, and join me as I chase down this crazy dream.

Ups and Downs . . . the October 2014 Edition

As I alluded to the other day, the waters of the freelance pool have been a little choppy recently. I spent the first half of 2014 doing work with my friends at Monte Cook Games, helping to manage the freelance art conga line for their awesome products for both Numenera and their new RPG The Strange. It was nice to work with friends, but especially to have the luxury of steady work (and associated paychecks) for eight months . . . but it was always a temporary gig, and as the summer wound down so did that work.

Thankfully, that happened just as a few assignments came in from Viz Media (a company I’ve been working with regularly for going on a decade now) and a couple of other small pieces of work landed on my desk. I was back in the freelance pool, which gave me cover as I started looking for full-time (or at least medium-length contract) work! Even better, a couple of new clients came to me talking about work for November and December, and potentially well into 2015. Things seemed to be going swimmingly.

Yeah. You know what comes next.

I found out recently that NEITHER of my potential new gigs is going to pan out the way we’d hoped. Indeed, neither one is going to be able to give me ANY work (not in this calendar year, anyway) . . . and while there’s all sorts of talk about the economy improving, so far it hasn’t shown any real impact on my hunt for a full-time “day job” (or even a stable medium-to-long term contract gig).

So here I sit, doing okay this week . . . but completely unsure of where ANY income is going to come from after next week.

Now, as I mentioned last week, I happen to already be in the midst of plotting out a new Kickstarter campaign that could potentially generate some money (potentially more than “some,” though I’m not putting any eggs in that particular longs-shot basket) . . . but that will still take some time to finish planning, then more time to execute, and even more time to collect whatever funds it does raise. And my landlord and the grocery store and all my other service providers are shockingly determined that I give them money ON TIME.

So I think I’m going to try something I’ve seen some other creative types do during lean times — I’m going to run a sale!

I’m still working out the details, but I should be ready to post them sometime next week. Basically, I’ll make my professional services available for a significantly reduced price . . . with the catch being that you have to pay up front to get that deal.

Of course, I’ve also got a fairly sizable collection of PDFs and even a few physical books that I’ve already done and have more or less “in stock.” I could (and probably would) also run a sale on these products, either making them available at a reduced price or “upgrading” them with signatures, sketches, and other personalizations.

I’ll be honest, I don’t know that this will work. But it certainly can’t hurt.

Anyway, I’ll have details soon-ish . . . and when I do, I’ll post about them here, and when I do I’ll be most grateful to anyone who helps me to spread the word (not to mention anyone who actually takes me up on the deal).

At the same time, I’ll keep my eyes on the horizon, keep planning my Kickstarter, and keep looking for a steady gig.

Yup . . . it’s fun here in the freelance pool. At least, it’s never dull.

What I’m NOT Doing for My Birthday

In case you missed it in my posts over the last few days, my birthday’s coming up. And if you’ve been around my blog in year’s past, you know that I love to celebrate! And this being a birthday with a “number of significance,” I’m planning to celebrate in a big-ish way — gathering as many people as I can so we can all eat, drink, laugh, and reminisce together. It should be a GRAND time, and I can’t wait! (It’ll be the evening of Friday, Oct. 17, at the AKF Elixirs & Eatery in Renton . . . come on down, you’re cordially invited.)

That having been said, I had an even BIGGER idea for celebrating . . . but sadly I was unable to coordinate it in time. If I’d been better organized, I wouldn’t just have had a gathering, I’d have put on a SHOW!

Literally.

I wanted to get a stage space (a small theater or other local venue) and have a Stan! Show.

I might have asked some of the musically-gifted folks I know to do me the honor of a short performance, y’know, to guarantee that there would be REAL entertainment, too. But for the most part I wanted to get on a stage in front of a friendly audience and just tell some stories.

Now, if you know me at all, you know I like telling stories. And I’ll do it at the drop of a hat. But there’s something special about telling stories to an actual AUDIENCE. It’s a real thrill, and it’s not something I get to do very often. I’ve long imagined putting together an evening of stories (perhaps organized enough to call a “monologue”) and performing them in a real theater before a real audience. I flatter myself that I’m good enough at storytelling that it would be worthwhile, even for an audience that DOESN’T already know me.

Of course, my friends DO know me . . . and they’ve heard most (and in some cases all) of my stories told and retold repeatedly. So I feel I’d need an event of significance to warrant making them spend the time to make a special trip just to listen to me tell them again . . . and my 50th birthday seemed like the perfect excuse! But, as I said, I wasn’t organized enough to make it happen. So I’ll have to put this particular dream on the back burner again for a while.

But I AM having this awesome gathering on Friday. Seriously . . . come and join us if you’re in the area!

Making My Dad Feel Old

I was on the phone with my dad the other day when, in the middle of an otherwise mundane conversation about how the NY Giants’ season is shaping up, he paused and then said, “Son, you’re going to be fifty years old in a couple of weeks.”

“Yeah, Dad,” I agreed. “I sure am.”

“I can’t believe I have a fifty year-old son.” he said.

“Imagine how I feel!” I quipped back.

But the truth is, I feel GREAT! I’ve never been bothered much by the birthdays with “numbers of significance.” I rolled through 25, 30, and 40 without having existential crises, and 50 is looking like “just another number” even as I’m less than a week from hitting that mythical “barrier.”

Of course, that’s not to deny that there ARE changes. I mean, I may not feel angst or depression of hitting the half-century mark . . . but there’s no denying that all those “road miles” have left their mark. Hair that’s now more gray than any other color. Little aches and pains even when I didn’t DO anything to get them. Y’know, the usual stuff. But it IS “usual” . . . as in it’s true now and it won’t be any more true next week after I roll the chronometer up a peg.

I’ve always had more trouble dealing with OTHER people’s “significant number” birthdays than my own. My dad turning 80, my sister turning 40, my nephew being old enough for a Bar Mitzvah . . . stuff like that sometimes gives me an emotional jolt. But ME getting older? Nah. I’ve been here each and every day. I’ve seen it coming (and going).

So I guess what I’m saying is that I empathize with my dad’s disbelief and slight dismay. But I’m just going to keep taking it one day at a time.

October Overview

Holy cats! I can’t believe it’s October (actually, the SECOND WEEK of October) already . . . and I don’t mean that in just the usual vague “time flies” kinda way. I’ve known for a while that this month was going to be one filled with lots of significant moments, and I’ve been actively tracking its approach since before the summer, and STILL it managed to sneak up on me!

Granted, getting knocked off my feet with a fierce post-travel head & chest cold ate up the tail end of September, threw me off my game, and put me behind on all my active deadlines . . . but even so, I don’t think I’d have been fully READY for October even if I’d stayed in the pink of health.

And then, on top of the events I knew were coming, life decided to throw me a few surprise pitches, too. So now there’s even MORE for me to fit into the month . . . and even less actual time to do it.

On the plus side, all of this gives me a trove of things to blog about . . . and maybe that will let me build up the momentum I need to make this a regular habit again. (At least that’s how I’m spinning it in my own mind . . . to, y’know, keep myself focused on the positive.) Guess I’ll start with an overview of the big topics that are on my mind (and on my plate) then follow up in the coming days with posts delving into the details.

In no particular order, subjects of the month include:

MY BIRTHDAY
As anyone who knows me knows, I love celebrating my birthday and October is when I do it (mainly because that’s when my birthday is). Not only that, this year my oldometer rolls over a “number of significance,” which makes me want to celebrate even MORE. Anyway, I’ll have a few things to say about the view I have as I stand atop the crest of my fifth decade and prepare to take the first steps into my second half-century.

OTHER BIRTHDAYS
A lot of very good friends of mine ALSO have October birthdays, and I want to take a little time to spread some of my celebratory good cheer with them, too. Should be fun!

FREELANCING and THE FREELANCE CURSE
The economy may be recovering, but even in the best of times being a freelancer is a challenging way to make ends meet. I had it my head to do a few “behind the scenes” posts about what it’s like freelancing . . . then life decided to give me a solid “case in point.” The short version is that all of the work I had lined up for November and December has been either cancelled or indefinitely postponed. The question is: What am I going to DO about it?

POSSIBLE NEW KICKSTARTER
Interestingly, even without the Freelance Curse, I was already starting to put together ideas for running a new Kickstarter campaign . . . and I had severable worthwhile possibilities. What were they? Which one am I leaning toward? What will happen to the other ideas? When would the Kickstarter kick-off? ALL good questions. Hopefully I’ve got some good answers.

So, yeah . . . I’ve got a lot going on in October.

C’mon back in the next few days (and weeks) to see how it all plays out. (I know I’M curious!)

Thoughts on Changes in Con Culture

I had an interesting discussion with friends & colleagues about the recent online hullaballoo over Denise Dorman’s post about the troubles even big-name artists (like her husband, Dave Dorman) have making money exhibiting at comic conventions, and how it reflected on other types of cons. I’m lucky enough to have a career that jumps across the comics/hobby games/manga/sci-fi/media categories and so I go to a lot of different cons. (FWIW, I was also a guest at that convention with Dave Dorman last weekend . . . so my perspective was influenced by that, too.)

I think that the big take away from all this IS that convention culture has changed—is constantly changing—and has finally hit a tipping point where those who did well under the old model can no longer carry on with business as usual. In many ways, I think it parallels the “newspapers vs. webcomics” cultural shift that has been debated in cartoonist circles for the past decade-plus.

The point I found most compelling in my earlier discussions is that convention attendees have ALWAYS come to cons for experiences that they can’t have in their everyday fandom. In the past, this had mostly to do with shopping—getting the chance to see and buy comics, games, tchotchkes, etc. that they ONLY had access to at the con . . . things that before the advent of online shopping they couldn’t get because the local comic/game/book stores (if there were any) didn’t carry them … and things like autographs, sketches, and personalized inscriptions. Now all of these things are, for the most part, available to ANYONE through online sales. Sure, an autograph or an “artist edition” might cost a few extra bucks . . . but they’re AVAILABLE.

Conventions used to be where we came to DISCOVER new (or new to us) comics, games, creators, fringe TV shows, etc. And while there’s still SOME of that going on at today’s cons, it’s no longer a focus of what most attendees come for. The Internet makes it so easy to find virtual-reams of material even highly obscure series or creators, and there’s a constant stream of “what’s new” being recommended by friends, family, and news sites.

It also used to be that the mere act of gathering together and talking with fellow fans, not to mention favorite creators, was something that could ONLY be gotten at a convention . . . and so those experiences were highly prized when one finally got to a con. But these days there is no lack of social groups, websites, blogs, podcasts, and YouTube channels that allow fans to get together and socialize with likeminded fans and pros (so much so that our fandom can now be sub-divided into particular niche points of view). Now you don’t need to come to a convention to find a peer group . . . you use it as an excuse to get together in real-time with friends you already have.

Again, I’m not complaining about these things . . . just pointing them out. Because one thing HASN’T changed—attendees come to conventions to have experiences that are bigger, better, or just plain different than they can have in their daily fandom: Cosplay and, in particular, taking pictures of and with particularly skilled costumers and models, events like parties, dances, and themed activities, live-action events, championship game tournaments, etc.. While shopping is still part of the mix, it generally focuses rare or exclusive items (things that attendees BELIEVE will actually be unavailable after the show).

A creator who comes to a convention these days with nothing more than a tableful of merch that can be bought on his or her online store any day of the week is going to have a challenging time reaching sales totals that match those of conventions past. As many have said in online commentary of this topic, it’s time for convention exhibitors (particularly artists and other creatives) to adapt.

Then again, it’s time for the conventions to adapt, too . . . that is, if they want to keep getting big (or even medium) name creators to show up at the cons. They have to HELP to find a way to make it worth those people’s time. Just offering a free table, or even a free hotel room, may no longer be enough. They have to find ways to help PROMOTE the appearance of the guests . . . to make the presence of these guests FEEL important to the attendees, and to encourage the perspective that meeting Neil Adams or Dave Dorman IS an experience that can only be had at the show. Alternatively, to work with the creatives to produce some material that IS exclusive to the show (and benefits the creatives’ bottom lines).

In any case, it is certain that the times are changing (or have changed already) . . . and we ALL have to make sure that we change with them.